I got an email the other night from a good friend in Alaska. He told me to watch a new TV show on The History Channel called “Mountain Men” because a guy he knew was starring in the show.
His friend is Marty Meierotto one of three stars of the show. So I did watch it and found it farcical.
You see, I’ve been in that environment where Marty supposedly lives. And I know that my friend Al has been out on trap line with Marty. In fact, I’ve seen photos of Al and Marty running that trap line and I’ve read about Marty a couple of times at my buddy Al’s request.
Yes, Marty is a pretty rugged guy. And yes, working through slushy overflow on a frozen river a hundred miles from the nearest person at 40 below can be a bit anxiety- ridden. I know because I’ve done it. But the life Marty is depicted as living makes the reality of his life look stupid.
The other night they portrayed Marty as having had a mechanical breakdown 10 miles from his cabin. He couldn’t get his snow machine running and so he had to walk, they said, in subzero temperatures to retrieve a new motor and then pack it back down the trail so he could swap out motors.
Now I don’t doubt that this was a dramatic portrayal of something Marty would have had to have done at one point in his life. You see, out there in the mountains of Alaska in the dead of winter you can’t call AAA. I’m sure such things have happened because I’ve heard the stories of the real guys who really do this stuff and have seen firsthand what kind of environment they have to deal with.
But a camera crew filmed Marty supposedly walking down the trail toward the cabin, 10 miles, after dark, and pretended that he was all alone. Of course the movie lights were obviously on, the cameras obviously rolling and I doubt that the crew walked 10 miles. So instead of doing an interview about the real adventure while seated back at the cabin, they get some guy with an overly dramatic voice to narrate the scene as if it is really happening. It looked stupid.
Then they had Marty working without gloves on his hands installing a new motor in his snow machine (we call them snowmobiles in the lower 48). Sorry, but that didn’t happen. I’ve been in the Alaskan wilderness at 40 below. I took off my gloves to clear frost from my goggles and in about 30 seconds my knuckles were so cold I couldn’t bend my fingers enough to put my gloves back on. If it hadn’t been for Al I might have lost my fingers to frost bite or worse.
To fix my fingers Al threw back the hood of my running snow machine and had me put my hands directly on the manifold. There was just enough heat to allow me to bend my fingers and pull on my gloves. There is simply no way Marty Meierotto worked gloveless on a cold steel motor under those conditions.
I like the fact that people in the lower 48 are getting a glimpse of what it is like in the wilderness of Alaska, but I am disappointed that the producers of the show didn’t make the same kind of effort at telling the tale as guys like Ken Burns do. Ken not only researches his facts and makes a great effort to tell an accurate story, but he does it without the fake drama and cheap tricks.
The guys who are producing the show “Mountain Men” have cheapened the unique life guys like Marty and my buddy Al live all winter. There is a very serious connection with the past which their true tales could inspire. But instead the show has reached for the bottom in terms of style and delivery.
Using their techniques anybody with a video camera could have followed me around yesterday in the searing heat, nearing exhaustion as I struggled to keep two weed eaters running long enough to fight the jungle springing up around my farm, in which dangerous animals like snakes and rabid raccoons could live and breed, threatening my family’s health and putting our livestock and chickens at risk.
To me it was just another day on the farm and no drama at all, but to these guys, out to sell commercials to advertisers, the ordinary and mundane are re-written to appear suspenseful.
It’s a shame really. The life of the real Mountain Men I know is far more exciting than the “city-fied” version they’ve put on TV. But after a hot day running a weed eater around the farm, I will admit that a good long run on a snow machine to a little cabin in the woods where we drink hot coffee and share stories of the trappers we know, does sound refreshing right about now as a heat wave settles in over Kentucky.
Maybe I’ll call Al and run up to Alaska for the salmon run. You see, in the summer, real Mountain men fish.
Marcus Carey is a Northern Kentucky lawyer with 32 years experience. He is also a farmer, talk radio host and public speaker who loves history and politics. He is a prolific and accomplished writer whose blog, BluegrassBulletin.com, is “dedicated to honest and respectful comment on the political and cultural issues of our time.” He writes a regular commentary for KyForward.